Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
This is my first finished book of 2012...and I read it quite by accident. It's not sitting on my shelves at home waiting to be picked up, it's not on my list of things to eventually read, and it wasn't reccommended by a friend. I went to Chapters yesterday morning after running errands, got a nice warm latte from the Starbucks nestled inside, and settled in for an afternoon of magazine reading. It just so happened that someone left this book sitting on the chair I sat down in, and there weren't many interesting magazines that were calling to me so I picked it up.
If you haven't heard of it, it's the memoir of Amy Chua; the story of how she, a Chinese woman married to a Jewish man, raised her two daughters Sophia and Lulu according to the Chinese principles of parenting that she was raised by. The problem here is that they live in America, where such principles are often viewed as abusive.
For example, Chua once referred to one of her daughters as "garbage" because she didn't play her piece on the piano perfectly, or because she spoke disrespectfully to her. She didn't allow them to attend or have sleepovers, play sports, get any grade lower than an A, and forced them to practice the piano and violin for hours and hours every single day, even when they were sick or on vacation. She would say terrible things to them, about how they were disgraceful, lazy and pathetic in order to get them to do what she wanted.
She claims that she did these things solely for Sophia and Lulu. I think that she thinks she did, but really, her reasons were also somewhat selfish. She hereself states that she liked to show off her daughers talents to others. Throughout the book she writes about the fights she frequently had with Lulu over practicing the violin and not letting her do things with her friends. But she also writes about the successes of her daughters. Sophia played the piano at Carnegie Hall, and Lulu auditioned for Julliard and studied with world renowned violinists. Both girls seem to be incredibly talented and brilliant.
In the end, after months of enduring Lulu not speaking to her and telling her how much she hates her and her life frequently, she decides that she has no choice but to loosen her grip a little bit out of fear of losing Lulu. She relented and let Lulu quit violin and start playing tennis.
What are my thoughts on this book? Well, I'm not sure I'm entitled to comment on parenting when I have never been one. My parents were somewhat distracted and the "let's just be friends" type. They were polar opposited to the Chuas. I personally feel that Chua's style of parenting has pros and cons. It's clearly too extreme, but as a result she has incredibly smart and talented daughters. Who knows what sort of great things I could have done with my life if I had been forced to learn something with the same intensity that Sophia and Lulu were. But I also think that she was verbally and emotionally abusive, and that children shouldn't be told over and over again that they're lazy, pathetic and stupid. They also need time to be kids, play, and have friends.
I loved this book...I read it in just over 2 hours and couldn't stop. Whether you agree or not with Chua's parenting, this is a book that will keep you turning the pages. It's also a good commentary on the differences in the attitudes of Westerners and Easterners.